FLORENCE — An inadvertent statement by a witness at the trial of Demian Blu on Wednesday caused prosecutors to shift tactics slightly.
Blu, 44, is one of three men who were arrested in connection with the 2016 deaths of Keith Long and Renae Gardner. The couple were shot and killed while sleeping in their home in an Apache Junction trailer park. Long’s body was found in a canal near San Tan Valley. Gardner’s body was found along State Route 87 (Beeline Highway) between Phoenix and Payson.
Blu is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abandonment or concealment of a dead body. His trial started last week.
Clint Wendelschafer, 34, of Tempe and Nicholas Douglas, 45, of San Tan Valley were also accused of murdering the couple. Wendelschafer accepted a plea agreement in December 2019 and Douglas is awaiting trial. Wendelschafer is expected to testify in Blu’s trial.
On Wednesday, when prosecutors showed Hope Silich, an acquaintance of Long, a picture of a gun similar to one she had owned in 2016 and asked if she recognized it, instead of answering “Yes” or “No,” she blurted out that the weapon belonged to Blu.
Blu’s attorneys immediately objected and Judge Robert Carter Olson had the statement struck from the record.
On Tuesday, before the trial was put on hold because of an absent juror, prosecutors and defense attorneys argued over whether prosecutors would be required to tell jurors that a gun that Blu was seen with after the death of the couple may not be the murder weapon. Prosecutors wanted to present evidence during the trial that Blu had access to the gun even if it didn’t match the characteristics of what investigators believe to be the murder weapon. The murder weapon is believed to be a different make, model and caliber than the gun Blu was seen with.
One of the reasons prosecutors wanted to use evidence that Blu had a gun was to show that he brought the weapon to Silich’s home at one point and that she was fearful of him because he had a gun at her home.
After the objection on Wednesday, the prosecutor attempted to move on to the next topic and avoid further discussion of the gun, but before she could do so, Blu’s attorneys protested and Olson called for a brief break to discuss the matter outside the presence of the jury.
During that break, Blu’s attorneys argued that the jury may have made a connection between Silich’s statement and that a gun was used in the deaths of Long and Gardner, even though the jury had yet to see the photograph of the gun or hear evidence that the murder weapon had not been found.
Olson pointed out that Silich’s statement had been struck from the record and that he saw jurors nod their heads in acknowledgement of his statement that they should ignore the statement. Olson asked what Blu’s attorneys wanted to do.
Blu’s attorneys stated that they were not asking for a mistrial but wanted prosecutors to stipulate that the gun may not be the murder weapon. Olson stated that he would stick to his Tuesday decision to allow prosecutors to present evidence that Blu had a gun and would give the jury instructions before they started deliberations on the case that prosecutors did not believe that Blu’s gun was the murder weapon.
The jury was then brought back into the courtroom and prosecutors continued to ask Silich questions including if she saw Blu cleaning both his and her gun at her home. Silich testified that Blu had offered to clean both weapons and that his weapon was similar to one she owned at the time. She also testified that she was not fearful of Blu because he had a gun in her home.
When asked, Silich stated that she didn’t recall telling police at the time that she was afraid of Blu because he had a gun in her home, even though it was included in the police report.
She also confirmed to Blu’s attorneys that she noticed a body in the back bedroom of the trailer when she first met Blu at the trailer.
Silich testified last week that she had gone to the trailer with her boyfriend four or five days in a row in May 2016 to try and recover some items that Long and Gardner had taken from them. At that time, she noticed what appeared to be a body on the bed in the back bedroom of the trailer under a set of blankets.
She also confirmed for defense attorneys that she had encountered dogs inside the trailer on the day that Blu had unlocked the trailer to allow her and her boyfriend to see if they could find some of the stolen items.
After lunch, attorneys questioned a Pinal County Sheriff’s Office crime scene technician who helped collect evidence from the canal where Long’s body was found.